Skip to main content

Full text of "Recollections of William Hone : thirty years an atheist, afterwards a happy Christian"

See other formats


RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 

THIETY YEARS AN ATHEIST, 
AFTERWABDS A HAPPY CHRISTIAN. 

Br J. E. HOWARD, ESQ., F.R.S. 




♦'MT LITTLE GIRL, WHAT ARE TOU READHTQ ? " 



THE RELIGIOUS TicAOT SOCIETY, 
56 Patehnostee Row, 65 St. Padl's Chchchtard, 
And 164 PicoAPiiLT. 

Wo. 1042. 



EECOLLECTIONS 

OF 

WILLIAM HONE. 



Intkoduction. 

HERE are some men whose lives present 
features of so great interest and instruc- 
tion to their fellows, that it becomes a 
duty to collect together and to hand 
down to posterity such portions of their biographies 
as may possess these characteristics, before they have 
faded from recollection. / 

The responsibility of this lindertaking has de- 
volved through lap$e of time on me. In fulfilling it, 
I am carrying out a T\^j|h cherished by the deceased 
liimself, to which he gave expression in a letter to 
Mr. Ball. 

After referring to the Lord's dealings with him, 
and how 'he was brought to believe in Christ, he 
v>'ont,on to say th^t it had long been his desire to 
make known his chaii2:e. of heart to all who had 
evexl h&ard name, aiid'that he thought it his 
duty to devote the first friiits of the exercise of his 
restored faculties to the promotion of the cause of 
God by testifying of His great mercy. He had 
made it the subject of frequent and earnest prayer 
to God to be enabled to do it with a 'simple desire 
for His glory and in fumble dependence on His 

2 




RECOLLECTIONS OF AVILLIAM HONE. 3 



blessing. He had waited in patience and submission. 
" I believe," he says, " He has put the desire into 
my heart to do this public homage to His sovereignty 
as a subject of His kingdom." He . thus evinced 
tlie reality of the change that had been Vrought by 
Divine grace in his heart. ^ : v \ , 

And no doubt that it was well that it was in bis 
heart," but I do not tliink that health and streigth 
equal, to the task wQre. afforded him. \ 

Miss Kolleston published (about 1848 aVfd onward) 
some particulars included in this tractV I can 
guarantee these as well as my. owii recollections as 
recording the result of much intercourse with this 
remarkable man, during the latter period of his life. 

Hone's Childhood. 

William Hone was born at Bath in the year 1780 
of obscure but religious and respectable parentage. 

'•'His father was an Independent, and brought 
him up very strictly — unfortunately, too strictly ; 
the ordinary penance for a slight fault being to 
get by heart a chapter in the Bible. On one 
occasion, being sent to get his task, sitting on the 
garret stairs, he threw the book from him down 
tlie whole flight, saying, * When I am my own master, 
I will never open you. And alas!' said he, in 
relating it, * I kept my word but too well ; for thirty 
years I never looked into it. My father and his 
friends,' said he, * were in the habit of speaking much 
and bitterly of John Wesley. They frequently 
called him, " The Old Devil" I had a most terrific 
idea of this satanic personage. Being under six 
years old, I went to a dame-school to learn my book ; 
and be out of harm's way. My dame was a very 



4 



EECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM ttONE. 



staid and pious old woman. She was very fond of 
me, and I was always good with her, though naughty 
enough at home. She lived in one room, a large 
underground kitchen ; we went down a flight of steps 
to it. Her bed was always neatly turned up in one 
corner. There was a large kitchen grate ; and in 
cold weather always a good fire in it, by which she 
sat in an old carved wooden armchair, with a small 
round table before her, on which lay a large Bible 
open, on one side, and on the other a birch rod. Of the 
Bible she made great use ; of the rod very little, but 
with fear we always looked upon it. There, on low 
wooden benches, books in hand, sat her little scholars. 
We all loved her, 1 most of all ; and I was often 
allowed to sit on a little stool by her side. I was 
happier there than anywhere. I think I see her 
now, that placid old face, with her white hair turned 
up over a high cushion, and a clean neat cap on the 
top of it ; all so clean, so tidy, so peaceful. I was 
happy there. One morning I was told I was not to 
go to school. I was miserable, naughty, disagreeable, 
cried to go to my dame. It was a dark day to me. 
The next day I got up, hoping to go to school ; but 
no ! I might not : and then they told me she was 
ill, and then I cried the more from grief. It was 
my first sorrow. That day, too, passed in tears, and 
I cried myself to sleep. Next morning everybody 
was so tired of me, that the servant was told to take 
me to her. As we approached the house, all was so 
still, it gave me an awful feeling that all was not 
right. The kitchen door was shut. The servant 
tapped, and a girl opened it. No scholars, no benches 
— the bed let down and curtained ; the little round 
table covered with a clean white cloth, and on it 
something unintelligible, covered up with another. 



RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 



5 



" * Here is Master William ; he would come,' said 
my bearer, and a low hollow voice from the bed 
said, * Let him stay, he will be good/ There lay 
my dame : how altered ! Death on her face, but I 
loved her all the same. My little stool was placed 
near her bolster, and I sat down in silence. Pre- 
sently she said to the maid, * Is he coming ? The 
maid went to the window and said * No.' Again the 
same question and the same answer. Who could it 
be ? I wondered in silence, and felt overawed. At 
last there was a double knock at the house-door 
above, and the maid said joyfully, *0h, madam, Mr. 
Wesley is come.' Then I was to see the Old Devil ! 
I crept to the window, I could only see a pair of 
black legs with great silver buckles. The door was 
opened. Steps came down the kitchen stairs, each 
step increasing my terror. I saw the black legs — 
then came in a venerable old man, with, as it seemed 
to me, the countenance of an angel ; shining silver 
hair waving on his shoulders ; with a beautiful fair 
and fresh complexion and the sweetest smile ! This 
then was ' the Old Devil ! ' He went up to the bed. 
I trembled for my poor dame, but he took her hand, 
and spoke so kindly to her, and my dame seemed so 
glad ! He looked at me, and said something. She 
said, * He is a good boy ; he will be quite quiet.' 
After much talk, he uncovered the table, and I saw 
the bread and wine, as I had often seen it at my 
father's chapel, and then he knelt down and prayed. 
I do not say I prayed, but I was awfully impressed, 
and quite still. After it was over, he turned to me, 
laid his hand on my head, and said, 'God bless 
you, my child, and make you a good man.' 

** Was this the Old Devil ? I never saw Mr. Wesley 
again. My dame died, but from that hour I never 



c 



RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 



believed anything my ftither said, or anything T 
heard at chapel. I felt, though I could not have 
expressed it, how wicked such enmity was between 
Christians, and so I lost all confidence in my good 
father, and in all his religious friends, and so in all 
religion." 

Tlie above narrative was printed by Miss Eolleston. 
It is so exactly in Hone's style, that I think she must 
have repeated the very words in which he told it ; 
and quite in accordance with my own recollection, 

except that Miss E substituted the words " child 

of the devil," for the more repulsive but more ex- 
pressive term which I distinctly recollect hearing 
from Hone when he narrated the circumstance to 
myself. 

Hone's Political Life and Teials. 

I read that he was placed at the age of ten at an 
attorney's office in London ; but after some time, his 
father, finding that he had attached himself to some 

reforming " society, and begun to take part in 
what he thought very objectionable politics, removed 
him to another master at Chatham. 

The vicissitudes of his subsequent life as a strug- 
gling London bookseller (detailed in the English 
Cyclopedia) I pass over till I come to the narrative 
of his trials, from the graphic account of which, given 
in the History of England during the Peace, I extract 
the following.^ 

Altogether the three trials of William Hone are 
amongst the most remarkable in our Constitutional 
History. They produced more distinct effects 
upon the temper of the country than any public 
proceeding at that time. . . . 

» Year 1817, pp. 144-148. 



RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 



7 



''On the morning of tlie ISth of December there 
is a considerable crowd round the avenues of Guihl- 
hall. An obscure bookseller, a man of no substance 
or respectability in worldly eyes, is to be tried for 
libel. He vends his wares in a little shop in the Old 
Bailey, where there are strangely mingled twopenny 
political pamphlets and old harmless folios, that the 
poor publisher keeps for his special reading as he 
sits in his dingy back parlour. The doorkeepers 
and officers of the court scarcely know what is going 
to happen ; for the table within the bar has not the 
usual covering of crimson baize, but ever and anon 
a dingy boy arrives with an armful of books of all 
ages and sizes, and the whole table is strewed with 
dusty and tattered volumes that the ushers are quite 
sure have no law within their mouldy covers. A 
middle-aged man — a bland and smiling man — with 
a half-sad, half-merry twinkle in his eye — a seedy 
man, to use an expressive word, whose black coat is 
wondrous brown and threadbare — takes his place 
at the table, and begins to turn over the books 
which were his heralds. Sir Samuel Shepherd, the 
Attorney-General, takes his seat ; and looks com- 
passionately, as was his nature to do, at the pale 
man in threadbare black. 

" The trial went on in the smoothest way, and the 
case for the prosecution was closed. Then the pale 
man in black rose, and with a faltering voice set 
forth the difficulty he had in addressing the court, 
and how his poverty prevented him from obtaining 
counsel. And now he began to warm in the recital 
of what he thought his wrongs ; his commitments ; 
his hurried calls to plead ; the expense of copies of 
the informations against him ; and, as Mr. Justice 
Abbott, with perfect gentleness, but with his cold 



8 



RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 



formality, interrupted him, the timid man, who all 
thought would have mumbled forth a hasty defence, 
grew bolder and bolder, and in a short time had 
possession of his audience, as if he were some well 
graced actor, who was there to receive the tribute of 
})opular admiration. . . . 

"The judge charged the jury in vain. William 
Hone was acquitted, after a quarter of an hour's 
deliberation. . . . 

" Again Mr. Hone entered the court with his load 
of books on Friday, the 19 th of December. He was 
this day indicted for publishing an impious and 
profane libel, called * The Litany, or General Suppli- 
cation.* Again the Attorney-General affirmed that, 
whatever might be the object of the defendant, the 
publication had the effect of scoffing at the public 
service of the Church. Again the defendant essayed 
to read from his books, which course he contended 
was necessary for his defence. Then began a con- 
test which is perhaps unparalleled in an English 
court of justice. Upon Mr. Fox's libel bill, upon 
ex-officio information, upon his right to copies of the 
indictment without extravagant charges, the de- 
fendant battled his judge ; imperfect in his law, no 
doubt, but with a firmness and moderation that rode 
over every attempt to put him down. Parody after 
parody was again produced, and especially those 
parodies of the Litany which the Cavaliers employed 
so frequently as vehicles of satire upon the Eound- 
heads and Puritans. The Lord Chief Justice at 
length gathered up his exhausted strength for his 
charge ; and concluded in a strain that left but 
little hope for the defendant. . . . 

" The jury, in an hour and a half, returned a 
verdict of ' Not guilty.' " 



RECOLLECTIONS OP WILLIAM HONE. 9 



" It might have been expected that these prosecu- 
tions would have here ended. But the chance of a 
conviction from a third jury, upon a third indictment, 
was to be risked. On the 20th December, Lord 
Ellenborough again took his seat on the bench, and 
the exhausted defendant came late into the court, 
pale and agitated. The Attorney-General remarked 
upon his appearance, and offered to postpone the 
proceedings. The courageous man made his election 
to go on. This third indictment was for publishing 
a parody on the Creed of St. Athanasius, called ' The 
Sinecurist's Creed.' 

" The triumph of the weak over the powerful was 
complete. * Tiie frame of adamant and sonl of fire ' 
(as the biographer of Lord Sidmouth terms the 
Chief Justice) quailed before the indomitable courage 
of a man who was roused into energies which would 
seem to belong only to the master spirits that have 
swayed the world. Yet this was a man who, in the 
ordinary business of life, was incapable of enterprise 
and persevering exertion ; who lived in the nooks and 
corners of his antiquarianism ; who was one that even 
his old political opponents came to regard as a 
* gentle and innocuous hunter after all such reading 
as was never read ; ' who in a few years gave up his 
politics altogether, and devoting himself to his old 
poetry and to his old divinity, passed a quarter of a 
century after this conflict in peace with all mankind, 
and died the sub-editor of a religious journal. 

" Grave and temperate was the charge to the jury 
this day; and in twenty minutes they returned a 
verdict of not guilty. 

" He spoke for six hours on the first day, for seven 
hours on the second, and his address to the jury on 
the third day especially, which lasted seven hours 



10 RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 



and a half, when although fatigued by his previous 
exertions he was inspirited by success, was remark- 
ably effective." 

Omitting much that is interesting, I take these 
particulars from the work referred to. They show 
the character of the man ; and I may add, from his 
own account to me, that on one occasion during these 
trials, being fatigued and unwell he asked for a chair, 
which was denied him ; on which he said he felt as 
if a bucket of cold water was poured over him, and 
his sense of fatigue entirely disappeared. 

I think it is due to his memory to record a cir- 
cumstance in connection with his trial which does 
credit to his filial feelings; and also places the 
character of his father before us as a man of stern 
principle, whatever mistake he may have made in 
the education of his son. Hone used to relate that 
when his father became acquainted with what had 
happened, he came to him and said, " William, what 
have you done ? " Seeing his father's grief, Hone 
promised faithfully to suppress all further issue of 
the Parodies. To this promise he adhered, although 
a very tempting offer was made to him by a book- 
seller whilst under confinement, which would have 
put him in possession of money, of which he was 
sorely in need. 

Hone's Atheism. 

The account of the further advance of his opinion, 
and his domestic history, shall follow in his own 
words, as reported by the same authority. 

had been fond of that good woman at next 
door,' continued he, looking towards his own cottage, 
*from our childhood up, and we married at eighteen. 
I saw much of the clever sceptics of those days, but 



RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 11 



I could not rest in deism. I became an atheist, as 
I believe every consistent reasoner must, who rejects 
Christianity. I was an atheist thirty years. One 
day, walking down Holborn, I stopped as usual at 
an old book-stall ; there I found a book open with 
some stories in it, that I saw at once would throw 
light upon some of my old prints that I could learn 
nothing about. The book was Jeremiah Jones on 
the Canon of Scripture ; the stories were the Apocry- 
phal Gospels.^ When I had studied my prints with 
them, and found what light they threw on their 
subjects, I thought they would do for the public, 
particularly for antiquarians and print collectors ; so 
I took a pair of scissors (for that is the way I make 
books) and cut out what I wanted, and gave them to 
the printer ; and out came my Apocryphal Gospels 
that made such a noise in the world. When I found 
what an outcry there was against me, I said to myself, 
" What have I done ?" and I set to work to read the 
canonical Gospels,' and said he (solemnly raising both 
his hands), * Oh, what a flood of light burst in upon me.' 

The mutilated copy of Jones on the Canon passed 
from his possession into the hands of a clergyman 
near London. When told after his conversion that 
his republication of the Apocryphal Gospels had 
done service to the cause of pure religion, by show- 
ing on what good grounds they had been rejected. 
Hone replied with the humility of true repentance, 
* But I did not so intend it.' " 

To this period of his life belongs the narrative of 
a circumstance which I find thus related, as the 
account was given by himself to Miss Kolleston, the 
writer of the tract (part ii. p. 21).^ 

* Forgeries of the early heretics. 

* My remembrance, as referred to in a subsequent letter, was ns 



12 RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 



" I was sent for on business to a house in a street 
in London, the name of which I did not know. I 
was shown into a room to wait ; on looking round, 
to my astonishment everything appeared perfectly 
familiar to me. I seemed to recognise every object. 
I said to myself, ' What is this ? I was never 
here before, and yet I have seen all this. There is 
something here which, on my principles, I cannot 
account for. There must be some power beyond 
matter.' 

The thought then suggested, he said, never left 
him till he was brought from the * horror of great 
darkness ' — from that atheism of which he ever 
spoke with shuddering memories^ into the glorious 
light of revelation. 

Hone's Conversion. 

This important — all-important change, may be 
said to have resulted (under God's blessing) from 
the circumstance of his being led to dwell upon the 
truth from which his mind was turned away in his 
early years. He learned to love the Bible, which 
once he had regarded with aversion; and in the 
course of a long series of providential dealings, 
every high thing that exalted itself against the 
knowledge of God was laid low, and every thought 
brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. 



follows : — He was called, in the course of business, into a part of 
London quite new to him, and as he walked along the street he 
noticed to himself that he had never been there ; but on being 
shown into a room in a house where he had to wait some time, he 
immediately fancied that it was all familiar, that he had seen it 
before, " And if so," he said to himself, " there is a very peculiar 
knot in the sliutter." He opened the shutter and found the knot. 
Now then, thought he, here is something I cannot explain on my 
principles. 



EECOLLEOTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 



13 



I will first present the reader with the manuscript 
of a letter sent by my late friend Mr. Richard Ball 
to Miss Rolleston, who published this and the follow- 
ing letter, as well as other particulars, in some obscure 
tracts, which have now become very scarce. 
■ " It affords me pleasure to give such particulars 
as my memory may supply of the intercourse which 
my honoured father had with that remarkable man, 
William Hone. I well remember the lively interest 
he felt in the progress of Hone's memorable prose- 
cution for libel before Lord Ellenborough. While 
totally disapproving the publication of parodies of 
sacred subjects, my father regarded with indignation 
what he considered the character of the proceedings 
against him. He saw, as every unprejudiced man 
saw, that the prosecution was not because Hone had 
parodied Scripture subjects, but because those parodies 
were directed against the government and ministers ; 
and that while men of all grades and professions, in- 
cluding Canning (a member of the then Administra- 
tion) had freely indulged in parodies offensive to 
Christian feeling, they were approved, while he was 
singled out for prosecution. It was evident that had 
he employed the same talent in the same way to 
support instead of to subvert the Administration, he 
would probably have found his way to a seat in Parlia- 
ment instead of a committal to prison. With these 
feelings my father called on Hone the first time he 
went to town after the trial. He expressed to Hone 
his strong feeling of regret that such parodies had 
ever been published by others as well as by himself; 
but that he felt at the same time his acquittal was 
most just, and could therefore congratulate him upon 
it. This paved the way for more confidential inter- 
course, which my dear father thankfully availed 



14 RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 



himself of, to press upon his mind the infinite im- 
portance of those truths which, though embodied with 
forms and ceremonies, were still part and parcel of the 
word of God ; and that, therefore, though perhaps 
unwittingly, he had committed a grave offence 
against God in thus bringing His word into contempt. 

My father's kindness evidently won upon him, and 
he invited him to call again. When next in London 
he did so ; further and more interesting conversation 
ensued, and my father asked Hone if he had ever 
attentively read the New Testament ? Hone said he 
had, but confessed he might have done so with a 
mind prejudiced against its doctrine by the manifest 
hypocrisy of many who made great parade of rever- 
ence for its authority. My father affectionately 
pressed him to read it through once again, remember- 
ing that the hypocrisy of those who bore the name of 
Christians, or even their wickedness, could not be 
held by any sensible man as an argument against 
that truth ; and if it were true, then eternity, 
heaven or hell, hung upon the issue of our accepting 
or rejecting that revelation of Christ as the Saviour 
of sinners and salvation by Him. 

" To all this Hone assented, and promised to do so ; 
and when on again seeing him, my father found lie 
really had read the New Testament with attention, 
he begged him to accept a volume, on the one con- 
dition of reading that also (the volume was Cecil's 
Remains, of which my father was very fond). Hone 
objected that, having to struggle for a bare subsist- 
ence by his pen, time was his capital, and that he 
could hardly promise to read a book of perhaps two 
hundred pages ; but again my father's kind entreaty 
prevailed, and Hone passed his word, and my father 
gave him the book. 



EECOLLECTIONS OF V/ILLIAM HONE. 



15 



" A long time elapsed before my father again saw 
liim, but it was then evident a great change was taking 
place in his view and feelings ; the truth of Chris- 
tianity had convinced his judgment, even if it had 
not influenced his heart : and he attributed to those 
interviews, and to the consequent perusal of the 
New Testament, and that other volume, the begin- 
ning of that blessed change in his views and 
feelings which ultimately issued in his remarkable 
conversion." 

The remainder is best told in the sequel of Mr. 
Hone's letter to Mr. Ball, from which I have already 
quoted. 

" * Well, then, my dear sir, in this respect you 
may gather in some degree how it is with me, and 
how God has wrought upon my mind, and operates 
upon it still, to the end. I speak of the time when 
His hand struck me as for death. It was in a house 
of prayer; and while being carried out from the 
place in men's arms as for dead. He lifted up my 
heart to a throne of grace. 

" * During the loneliness of what seemed to me my 
dying bed, the discomfort of my awful infirmity, and 
the ruin of my name and family, and property, He 
was with me ; and I bless His holy name, my faith in 
Him is unshaken. He keeps me constantly to 
Himself; and in despite of worldly afflictions and 
nature's fears, I depend upon Him, and the workings 
of His gracious providence, that He will never leave 
me nor forsake me. It has never entered my mind, 
even as a shadow, that I can do anything for Him ; 
but whatever He enables me to do, I would do it for 
His glory. In the dark season of the hiding of His 
face, I would wait for Him, as He waited for me, while 
I resisted the drawings of His love ; and when I sit 



16 



RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 



in the light of His countenance, I would rejoice, and 
magnify His name before the people. And now that 
He has wonderfully raised me up, after a long season 
of calamity, to the power of using my pen, I pray that 
He may direct it to tell of His mercy to me; and by 
what means He has brought me to acknowledge 
Him the Lord our righteousness, God blessed for 
ever. 

" * At all times, and in all places, when there is need 
for it, I trust I may never be ashamed to declare 
His name, but readily exemplify by His help the 
courage and obedience of a Christian ; and as a good 
soldier of Christ, fight the good fight of faith 
with the sword of the Spirit. May God grant me 
strength to do His will, is my humble supplication.* " 
(Written by W. H., July, 1834.) 

About New^ Year's Day, 1835, he publicly joined the 
Christian community at the Weigh House Chapel 
under the pastoral care of the late Dr. Binney, and 
received the Lord's Supper as a member of it ; but 
the memorable conversion of a most determined foe 
into a humble disciple of Christ had been some time 
accomplished. 

Hone's Latter Years. 

The pleasing record of years brightened by 
Christian faith and hope is thus given by Miss 
Kolleston, then an elderly lady of marked intellectual 
and religious character. In a letter from herself 
to me, she said, ",I do not know whether you are 
aware that William Hone, when I talked of his 
autobiography and said, * If you don't write it, I 
must do it for you,' replied, ' Do, my dear lady, no 
one knows it so well.' " 



RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 17 

Her first acquaintance with Mr. Hone she describes 
thus : 

"The friend above alluded to, early in the spring 
of 1832, being resident in a village near London, 
observed daily in the garden of an adjoining cottage 
a fatherly-looking person with the appearance of a 
respectable retired tradesman, evidently an invalid, 
but every morning seated in a little arbour, with a 
small table before him and a large family Bible on 
it, in which he read much, at intervals walking up 
and down the garden, conversing with his children. 
The gardens were only separated by a trellis work ; 
the qniet inmates of the one cottage therefore 
unavoidably heard much of the conversation of the 
large family occupying the other, who lived a great 
deal in the open air. This affectionate parent was 
frequent and earnest in striving to impress his 
children with the importance of religion, and to 
instruct them in its principles. The strong sense 
and energetic simplicity of his language were very 
soon remarked ; so was his early rising and devoted 
study of his Bible, and his constantly taking his 
family to a place of worship, generally three times 
on the Sunday. 

" Some weeks elapsed before the name of these new- 
comers was ascertained, and a still longer beforss? it 
occurred to any one to identify the name of this 
quiet, regular family with one that had so different 
an idea attached to it in general. Those privately 
acquainted with Hone, even while the adversary of 
Christianity, were however well aware that as a 
husband and a father he failed only in the one 
(but most important) duty of religious instruction. 
Those who knew him only from his public character 
coiild never recognise him in the simple-minded. 



18 RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 

humble Christian, whose daily life and conversation 
was thus unintentionally the subject of unbiassed 
observation for some months, and afterwards of 
admiration and astonishment at the power of Divine 
grace exhibited in him." 

This was written in 1836. In another letter in 
1843 the authoress describes with more detail her 
first impressions, including the discovery that her 
neighbour had an almost universal acquaintance 
with English literature and most with the most 
sterling authors. 

"He frequently spoke on religious subjects, on 
which ho appeared to be very seriously inquiring. 
One day he asked, * In what books shall I find your 
religious opinions.' I replied, *In one, the Bible.' 
A day or two after he observed, *I have been 
thinking much of what you said ; there is but one 
book, the Bible ! ' 

" As he recovered his health his remarkable powers 
of wit and humour began to show themselves, and 
the force of his character was again in action. He 
heard of an act of oppression to a defenceless 
woman in the neighbourhood, and took up her cause 
with his accustomed energy. His first visit was on 
this affair. Two gentlemen were sitting with me, 
both very clever men. When he left us they said, 
* That is an extraordinary man ; such fearlessness, 
such benevolence, such acute perception of the 
wrong, and the way to get it set to rights ! ' 

" Soon after this he asked me some questions in 
English literature. * I shall never again attempt 
to teach you,' said I, rather pointedly. ' Then you 
know me now, the arch blasphemer!' returned he, 
with an expression of the greatest self abasement, 
*and will you now converse with me?' *A brand 



RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 19 



plucked from the burning/ was my reply ; and he 
was, I believe, deeply though silently grateful, and 
now his communications became more and more 
confidential, and more than ever on the concerns of 
eternity. Much of his past life he related to me 
from time to time, in the desultory sort of way in 
which alone I can relate it. One evening he told 
me, * I have spent a delightful day alone in Nor- 
wood ' (then retaining much of its wild wood walks 
and lonely beauty) ; * I have stood humbled before 
a child. I saw a little girl sitting at a cottage door 
reading a Bible which lay on her lap. I said to her, 
My little girl, what are you reading ? " My Bible, 
sir." " What ; are you getting your lesson for your 
Sunday-school ? '* *' No, sir." Why are you 
reading it, then ? " Because I love it ! " I stood 
humbled before that child.' 

" Most expressive was the gesture and the voice 
that accompanied these words — few and simple and 
striking, as was his wont. 

"A very celebrated contemporary, who highly 
appreciated Hone's talents and honesty, being 
applied to for assistance in what was then doing 
for his service, said, * The man has been dead for 
years.' It was thought best to have the report 
contradicted under his own hand ; and it was thus 
he did it. * Yes, I have been dead for some years — 
dead to the world — and I am willing so to remain. 
I am thankful to God that, by His help, while faculty 
and life remain, they must be devoted to Him, 
through honest endeavours in promoting the ex- 
tension of His cause on earth.' Speaking of his 
then employment, he goes on to say : * A sense of 
duty to my family confines me to the dreary sound 



20 BECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 



of this treadmiir (as sub-editor of a paper) 'six 
days a week. Only one thing reconciles me to it — 
the seventh day. The first day of the week is the 
Sabbath, and it is to me thrice blessed.' " 

Miss Eolleston proceeds in her narrative to record 
a letter from the writer, whose acquaintance with 
both these parties was of a somewhat later date. 

" Another of the Christian friends from whom, 
in his latter years, William Hone received so much 
kindness, has also furnished recollections of him. 

" It is pleasing to recall the memory of one whom 
I think of as a monument of special mercy — a 
brand snatched from the burning ; for such was 
William Hone during the period of my acquaintance 
with him, including the few years before his death. 
None so sensible as he was himself of the awful 
abyss of infidelity from which he had been delivered. 
I well remember the mental shudder with which lie 
spoke of the state of his soul, when wandering in the 
darkness of materialism. My course of inquiry in 
this conversation was directed to the investigation 
of his then opinions. I asked him if he had be- 
lieved in causation without a first cause. His 
replies showed that the present thing to his soul 
was the deep conviction of his rebel state by nature ; 
which led him, at that time, to a state of feeling 
and thought on which it is unnecessary to dwell.^ I 
never shall forget how his fine intellectual counten- 
ance brightened when speaking of his hopes for 
eternity — a radiant beam of joy kindling in his 
piercing eye ; the new creation becoming more 
beautiful as decay stole over the outward man, for he 

* x\lthough instructive, aud illustrating the truth that Atheism ia 
an affair rather of the heart than the head. 



RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 21 



was SO much sliattered by paralysis, that towards the 
close, I believe, mental power was very much with- 
drawn from this once dauntless brow. He gave me 
the copy of lines written on a blank leaf in his 
pocket Bible ; and with this note, * Written before 
breakfast, 3rd June, 1834, the anniversary of my 
birthday in 1780.' 

" I much washed him to write his autobiography, 
but am inclined to think he had not liealth or nerve 
to undertake the task. I have no means at all at 
my command for slvctching even the outlines of his 
religious history. Two or three anecdotes which he 
related are all that I can contribute towards a piece 
of mental history which, if preserved, would have 
been highly interesting. The first in point of time 
as to his state of mind was a circumstance which 
shook his confidence in materialism, though it did 
not lead to his conversion. It was one of those 
mental phenomena which he saw to be inexplicable 
by the doctrine he then held. I hesitate a little as 
to recording the circumstance, which to some persons 
would savour too much of the marvellous.^ . . . 
A second anecdote he related to me thus : — 
He had been spending a holiday in the woods near 
Eochester, rambling and thinking till he was weary, 
when he came upon a farmhouse which he entered, 
and asked the good woman of the house to get him 
some milk. She rose to comply with his request, 
and left the book she was reading on the table. In 
her absence he took it up, found it was the New 
Testament, and read some verses in the 5th chapter 
of Matthew. The impression made upon his mind 
was chiefly the richness of thought and condensation 
of matter in the style. He said to himself, ' There is 
* Letter from Mr. J. E. Howard to Miss Eolleston. 



22 EECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 

more in one verse here than in a whole page of the 
Greek Philosophers/ which he had been reading. 
He determined at once to buy the book, and to 
study it with attention. On his return to Kochester 
he attempted that very night to procure a copy, but 
it was too late. The next morning, however, he 
succeeded, purchased a Testament, which he read 
carefully with pencil in hand, crossing out all the 
passages he could not believe. He then with a pair 
of scissors cut out the portions which he could 
believe, and pasted them into a book for his own 
use. He said to himself, * What a beautiful thing 
is Christianity, but this Paul has wrought it up 
into a philosophical system.' He did not speak of 
this as directly instrumental to his conversion, but 
mentioned as more immediately connected with this 
the gift of Cecil's Life and Kemaius by a gentleman, a 
member of the Society of Friends, the late Mr. Ball, 
of Bristol. The gift was accompanied with a promise 
on his part that he would read the work. This he 
only partially accomplished at the time, but at a 
subsequent and critical period of his mental history, 
the perusal was accompanied by a blessing to his 
soul. 

The above are the chief particulars which I can 
recall relative to the latter years of this gifted man, 
by nature a lion, but changed by grace into a lamb,' 
and I doubt not received, as washed in a Saviour's 
blood, into heavenly rest. 

Hone's Death. 

Miss Kolleston wrote me, in a letter (not dated, 
probably 1848) from which I now copy : 

" Can you furnish me with any letter of his^ or 



RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE. 



23 



anything relative to his last hours ? Many persons 
ask me how he died." 

It is not the death, but the life that I have to 
record. "William Hone died at Tottenham on the 
6th November, 1842. 

Conclusion. 

My pleasant task as compiler is now completed. It 
may be expected that I should say something in the 
way of improvement and application ; but I never 
had much taste for this sort of writing, and I 
remember that the subject of this memoir told me 
that though he read Cecil's Life with interest, he left 
the Eemains " till a time when he happened to 
be destitute of any other reading. 

I would therefore leave the life to tell its own 
tale. The inimitable biographies we find in Scripture 
are thus left to produce their own effect. I trust 
that by the Divine blessing this account may be 
rendered useful to those young persons, especially, 
who have been led to think of the reception of the 
truth as a mere matter of excitement, and as some- 
thing unworthy of a manly character. 

Hone's conversion was connected with his receiving 
the testimony of the Scripture to the glad tidings 
proclaimed to us, and of which God has given a 
pledge^ unto all men, in that He hath raised up 
Christ again from the dead. Those who assail the 
Gospel have therefore in the first place to attempt 
the impossible task of disproving the historical 
evidences of Christianity. 

I conclude with the verses written by W. Hone on 
the anniversary of his birthday in 1834, as finally 

* See Paul's discourse at Ailiens, in the Greek. 



24 RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM HONE, 



corrected and given by himself to the writer. They 
were published in a periodical, " The Inquirer," of 
which I was proprietor. 

"The proudest heart that ever beat 

Hath been subdued in me;' . • ' 

The wildest vrill that ever voaa^^. 
To scorn Thy cause, and aid TIm foes, 

Is quelled, my God, by Thee!'^, 

"Thy will, and not my will, be donflJ| 
My lieart be ever Thine ! 
Confessing Thee, the mighty Word, 
I hail Thee, Christ, my Go4, my -V>r d, 
And tnake Thy Name my sign.- 

W. Iloxn." 



London : The Iieltgious Tjiact Society, 
5 J Paternoster Row, 65 St. Paul's Churchyard, 164 Piccadilly, 
manchesteb: cokporation street. Brighton: western road. 
IPrice 6s. per 100.]